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Know When the Time is Right

Pat N. Confalone, elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, ACS Fellow, and Independent Consultant to the Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical, and Agrichemical Industries
Pat N. Confalone, elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, ACS Fellow, and Independent Consultant to the Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical, and Agrichemical Industries

A graduate of M.I.T., Pat obtained a PhD at Harvard with Nobel laureate Prof. R.B. Woodward. After a post-doctoral stint, also with Prof. R.B. Woodward, directed toward the total synthesis of Vitamin B12, he joined the Chemical Research Department of Roche Pharmaceuticals.

Moving to DuPont, his Bioorganic Chemistry group developed the fluorescent dye-labeled reagents that were used in automated DNA sequencing, eventually employed in the human genome project. With DuPont’s Pharmaceutical Division, his Medicinal Chemistry department discovered Cozaar™, a major anti-hypertensive based on angiotensin II antagonism.

After 22 years in Discovery Research, he moved into pre-clinical development and his Chemical Process R&D organization carried out the chemical development of Cozaar™ and Sustiva™, a highly successful therapeutic used to treat AIDS, currently in over 5 million patients. Together, these life saving medicines generated cumulative sales of over $50 billion.

As Vice President, Global R&D, DuPont Health, Nutrition, and Crop Protection, he led 300 scientists to build a world class pipeline of novel products, including Rynaxypyr™ and Cyazypyr™ with world-wide sales over a billion dollars a year, and the new mode of action fungicide Zorvec™. In Animal Health, his team discovered the chewable flea and tick product NexGard™ with 2019 sales of $900M.

He has presented >110 plenary lectures worldwide, published >140 papers, obtained >50 U.S. Patents, and has been an associate editor of ten peer-reviewed scientific journals. He has received numerous honors and awards, including the Harvard Graduate Society Prize, the Alpha Chi Sigma Award, the Robert A. Welch Lectureship, and the Philadelphia Organic Chemistry Award. He was nominated to the Harvard Society of Fellows, is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an ACS Fellow, and served as Chairman of the Board of the American Chemical Society. Currently, Pat is an independent consultant to the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and agrichemical industries.

Did you choose retirement? Or was it chosen for you?

I was fortunate to select the timing of my retirement from DuPont. I believe most of my colleagues had left at or before 65, so I was an exception and exited the company at 68. I had been told that “you will know when the time is right” and that was true in my case. One should not wait too long lest you lose any of the “big three - health, time, and money”, the components of a successful retirement.

How was the transition from the working world to retirement?

The first realization in the transition is that you don’t have to get up every day and go to work. Most days do not require an alarm. Sure, we enjoyed the workplace and the work, but I found this new normal that didn’t involve a commute, hours of telecons, tiresome meetings in windowless conference rooms, and an endless docket of email to answer was pretty terrific.

What do you wish you knew about retirement before you retired?

I found that retirement resulted in three important losses; the things I missed the most and was not as well prepared to deal with. These are perhaps unique to industrial chemists and engineers since academic types seem to never retire [smiling]. First, I missed my colleagues - people I met with almost daily and now may not ever see again. Second, I missed the R&D programs and projects. The day I walked out the door, I could no longer participate in the exciting world of R&D, but had to wait for patents and publications to learn of outcomes. Third, [and this one can really get to a retiree] I missed my identity. I was no longer a Global VP of R&D at a major corporation, but a retired person. However, I soon found that the only person who cared about this identity loss was ME. My friends all said “Hey, you’re retired now. Let’s plan some trips, play some golf" - enjoy newly won family time, leisure, travel, hobbies, etc. So very liberating…

How do you stay connected to the chemistry enterprise as a retiree?

Fortunately, I have been a consultant for the Biotech/Pharma/Ag industry for many years, including Board of Directors and Science Advisory Boards. In that capacity, I have stayed very close to Life Sciences R&D. I can set my own hours and level of commitment. I believe it’s crucial that one avoids moving from full employment to nothing upon retiring. My advice is be sure you have a lot of activities that you were unable to carry out when you were working, and enjoy them now to the fullest.

What do you like most about where you are living in retirement? What’s one thing you wish you could change about where you live?

We have been in Wilmington, DE since 1981 and have no intention of leaving. This small state [one representative] on the DelMarVa peninsula is a well-kept secret. We do have a place in Naples, FL and enjoy a getaway there in winter months.

What advice do you have for people who are getting ready to retire?

Realize that this new phase of your life offers a promise of great freedom to pursue the many interests that your working career interfered with. Explore and experience new pursuits and enjoy expanded time together with family and friends. Smile when it’s the usual time for a performance review and realize that you’ll never have another one!

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This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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